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Digital Subscriptions > Boston Review > Economics After Neoliberalism (Summer 2019) > THE PERILS OF QUANTIFICATION

THE PERILS OF QUANTIFICATION

ECONOMICS STANDS DEEPLY COMMITTED to quantification, especially in its most policy-facing branches. Indeed, a particular approach to quantification for policy analysis is what many applied economists mean by economics. This dogma of quantification creates perils for policy that are, in my view, as significant as the market fundamentalism the EfIP authors highlight. As economists rethink the relationship between their discipline and public policy, they would be well served grappling with these issues.

In a textbook vision of policy analysis, quantification is simply a tool; it measures and scores policy alternatives rather than shaping the alternatives themselves. We are invited to think of quantification as in service of policy aims that are defined elsewhere and by others. But this view, while popular, is misleading. We cannot divide the world into a neat dualism of aims and tools. How and what we quantify shapes and determines the aims of public policy, just as those aims shape and determine what we quantify.

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Economics After Neoliberalism offers a powerful case for a new brand of economics—one focused on power and inequality and aimed at a more inclusive society. Three prominent economists—Suresh Naidu, Dani Rodrik, and Gabriel Zucman—lead off with a vision “for economic policy that stands as a genuine alternative to market fundamentalism.” Expanding on “the state of creative ferment” they describe, Boston Review has commissioned responses to their essay from economists, philosophers, political scientists, and policymakers across the political spectrum as well as new essays that challenge the current shape of markets and suggest more democratic alternatives. Lenore Palladino explores the misguided logic of shareholder primacy and points to more equitable approaches to corporate governance—such as employee ownership funds. Amy Kapczynski examines how the courts have developed a new, anti-democratic First Amendment that protects corporate speech at the expense of regulation designed to protect public health and safety. And Robert Manduca explores the importance of public discussion about economics by revisiting Chester Bowles's remarkable book, Tomorrow Without Fear, which explained Keynesian ideas to the public after World War II.